Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Your Body Doesn't Know It Isn't Happening

This weekend, our gaming group was playing along in our game as usual, having narrowly escaped death at the fangs of a gargantuan tarantula; when the Non-Player Character, of dubious allegiance, with which we were dealing tried to pull an obvious cover-up, which his degree of authority in the situation should have allowed him to do. But Stephanie Neotomi, my ratfolk rogue (recently recovered from being paralyzed by the venom of said spider), had already started asking questions and wouldn't be put off. Suddenly everything devolved into a shouting match, violence was narrowly averted, and we spooked the NPC badly enough that he had to run; but the guards under his command were already moving to arrest us.

After a hairy bit of play, we emerged with the evidence we needed to get the guards on our side, the information we needed to advance our mission, and with all party members alive - but two of us probably infected with lycanthropy and nothing with which to stop the infection. So we had to ride hard in the opposite direction from where we wished to go in order to get some wolfsbane - ride so hard that it was necessary to stop and perform some magic to keep the horses from floundering on the way back. Which is when the ghost of one of the random monsters we recently killed decided to attack us, coming within a hair of killing three of the party. Again, we emerged victorious, but only by dint of some serious cooperative play and one of us remembering a resource that we've had for awhile but which the rest of us had forgotten. Also, the DM letting him deploy that resource retroactively, so that our sorcerer was only mostly dead.

By then it was late enough that we needed to quit, so the game broke up. Once home, I crashed hard. We all agreed, in e-mail postmortem on Monday, that the session had been intense enough to be physically draining. Sitting around a table rolling dice, making notes, and pawing through rulebooks looks sedentary; but the intellectual and imaginative handling of the scenarios and rules, and the sheer suspense, activated plenty of adrenaline and had significant effects on our body chemistry. That night I was in that peculiar state of exhausted wakefulness that you get on your most strenuous days of vacation, when you can't stop shooting the rapid or climbing the mountain or riding the rollercoaster, or whatever it was you were doing that had your body convinced that you were about to die, even though you were perfectly safe.

The same thing happens when you're writing. Or reading, but there's a level of control in reading that you don't have in writing. You cry real tears over Beth March, but you don't have to deal with it all at once. (Remember how Joey, on Friends, used to put intense books - including Little Women - in the freezer when he couldn't handle them?) When you're writing, you're writing pretty much constantly. When you're doing dishes. When you're in the shower. When you're watching TV or driving or kissing your husband. Your backbrain is handling the material, going over it and over it to get it into a form you can write down; and then you write it down and you have to bull your way through it to get the draft and then - you'll have to revise it. And go over and over and over it. To top off which, even the most comfortable writing posture, over time, involves being locked into place for a prolonged period, which is physically taxing. (So cultivate good habits, like pacing and taking little breaks. At least get yourself an ergonomic keyboard. You'll kill yourself typing on a laptop.)

I had to rewrite the ending of The Ghost Sitter five times for the editor (I didn't count how often I went over it in revision before she even saw it), and I cried every time.

So don't be surprised if you get up at the end of a writing session shaky and weak and exhausted.

Writing only looks sedentary. It has physical effects. Don't discount them. Accommodate them.

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